Polygyny and Me

Islam in Ireland




Since my family from my mothers side was Irish, I was wondering what islam in Ireland was about. My mother grew up in Canada, but my grandmother was from Sligo, Ireland, and My grandfather from Scotland.


I had often wondered what islam was like in Ireland, since i have a deep Irish background. Ireland is rich with culture and traditions… which, I love. I was brought up in North Carolina and raised as a catholic. I had two Irish aunts always around me… It was great. So I have always been curious about Ireland and how Islam would play into the culture.




The first Islamic Society in Ireland was established in 1959. It was formed by Muslim students studying in Ireland and was called the Dublin Islamic Society (later called the Islamic Foundation of Ireland)[1]. At that time there was no mosque in Dublin. The students used their homes and later rented halls for Jum’ah (Friday) and Eid prayers. In 1969 the students began to contact their relatives and some Islamic organizations and Muslim countries for the purpose of collecting donations to establish a Mosque. In 1976 the first mosque and Islamic Centre in Ireland was opened in a four story building at 7 Harrington Street, Dublin. Among those who contributed to the project of the Mosque and Islamic Centre was the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. In 1981 the Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs of Kuwait sponsored a full time Imam for the Mosque.


A few years after the establishment of the first Islamic Centre and Mosque in Dublin, the Mosque became too small for the increasing numbers of worshippers. The Muslims in charge of the society started a second campaign to collect donations in order to establish a bigger mosque. In 1983 the present building of the Dublin Mosque and Islamic Centre was bought, renovated and the headquarters of the Society moved from Harrington Street to 163 South Circular Road, Dublin.


The same situation has been happening in Cork, with many prayer halls being located in housing estates. At present, Cork’s Muslim community are operating out of an industrial estate, while waiting for funding to build a new mosque.


In 1992 Moosajee Bhamjee became the first (and to date only) Muslim Teachta Dála (Member of Irish Parliament).



Demography and ethnic background

According to the 2006 Irish census, there are 32,539 Muslims (19,372 males and 13,167 females) living in the Republic of Ireland. representing a 69.% increase over the figures for the 2002 census (19.147). In 1991, the number of Muslims was below 4000 (3.873).


According to the 2001 census in Northern Ireland, there are 1,943 Muslims (1,164 males 779 females) living north of the border.


The Muslim community in Ireland is considerably diverse and its numbers are not determined by the country’s history to the same extent as the UK and France, where the majority of Muslims are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from former colonies, or Germany and Austria, where the majority of Muslims are Turkish migrant workers and their descendants. There is no dominant ethnicity within the Muslim community in Ireland. The country’s Muslims come from South Asia, East Asia, Oceania, and Indonesia. There are also Muslims from Arab countries, a growing number from Sub-Saharan Africa. The large muslim immigration in the end of the 90ies was caused by the irish economic boom and asylum seekers from diverse muslim countries.

Muslims now make up the third largest faith group in Ireland.


Mosques In Ireland

The Islamic Foundation of Ireland

Its headquarters is in Dublin. It is the mother Islamic organisation in Ireland. It was established in the name of the Dublin Islamic Society in 1959. Later on the name was changed to the Islamic Foundation of Ireland so that it could represent Muslims all over Ireland. The Foundation is registered as a ‘Friendly Society’ with the Registry of Friendly Societies since 1971. It is also registered as a charitable organisation. The Foundation has a written constitution and a Council, Majlis ash-Shura, which is elected every year by the registered members of the Society.


Membership of the Islamic Foundation of Ireland is open to all Muslims in Ireland. Every Muslim in Ireland is an honourary member of the Foundation according to the Constitution of the Society. As for the right of voting and being elected, it is only confined to the registered members. The number of registered members at present is 1,384 from all over Ireland. The Foundation runs the Dublin Mosque and Islamic Centre. It has established a mosque in the city of Cork for the local Muslims in 1994, and supervised the construction of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin, which was donated by Sheikh Hamdam Al-Maktoum, and was officially opened in 1996. The financial recourses of the Foundation on which it depends to run it’s activities include some of the houses which were bought after the establishment of the Mosque so that these houses would be used as Waqf, which are rented and the income used to cover the expenses of the Mosque and Islamic Centre. The Foundation also owns a shop for selling Halal meat and other food and a restaurant for serving daily meals, meals for the Islamic Centre’s and private functions. With the growth of the number of Muslims in Ireland the financial burden upon the Foundation has increased. The only regular donation, which the foundation receives from outside Ireland, is part of the salary of the Imam of the Foundation, which is sponsored by the Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs in Kuwait.


The Islamic Cultural Centre, Dublin


In 1992, Sheikh Hamdan Ben Rashid Al-Maktoum, Deputy Governor of Dubai and Minister of Finance & Industry in the United Arab Emirates agreed to finance the purchase of land, which included a building, to house the Muslim National School (established in 1990). Later on Sheikh Hamdan agreed to sponsor the construction of a purpose built Mosque and Islamic Centre on the same site. Work started on the new Mosque and Centre in 1994 and was completed in 1996. In November 1996 the Centre was officially opened. The new premises of the Mosque and Islamic Centre was given to the Islamic Foundation of Ireland (which supervised it’s construction) and lease was signed for thirty five years giving the Islamic Foundation the right to run it. So, in effect the Islamic Foundation ran both Mosques in Dublin, the old Mosque and New Mosque.


However, after the passage of seven months the Islamic Foundation of Ireland was asked to abandon it’s right in the lease of the property and reassign it to the newly formed Al-Maktoum Foundation (formed in 1997.) This move caused division and unnecessary trouble in the community. Although the reassignment of the lease to the Al-Maktoum Foundation has not been done as yet, the headquarters of the Islamic Foundation returned to the old Mosque in Dublin. The Islamic Cultural Centre is now run by the Al-Maktoum Foundation (all of it’s Directors are from the United Arab Emirates.) This is done through a local committee, which is chosen by the Al-Maktoum Foundation.


The Cork Muslim Society

The Cork Muslim Society was established in 1984. Its membership is open to all Muslims in Co. Cork. The local Muslims choose a committee annually to run the Mosque and community affairs. In 1994 a house was bought to be used as a Mosque and Islamic Centre for the Muslim community in Cork. There is a problem, which is facing the Muslims in Cork right now. This has to do with the refusal of the Local Authority to allow Muslims to continue using the house as a Mosque. The Cork Corporation is saying that Muslims have not obtained planning permission to change the use of the property from a single dwelling into a Mosque. This problem arose after complaints were made to the Cork Corporation, the Local Authority regarding the manner in which Muslims park their cars when they attend the Mosque on Fridays. This is something, which caused traffic chaos in the area. Right now the Muslims in Cork are seeking to obtain a more suitable place, which is a bigger house with parking facilities. This is especially needed in light of the increase in the number of Muslims in Cork.


The Galway Islamic Society


The Galway Islamic Society was established in 1978. In 1981 a house was bought in Galway to be used as a Mosque. Membership of the Galway Islamic Society is open to all Muslims living in County Galway in the west of Ireland.


Ballyhaunis Mosque

Ballyhaunis Mosque was built in 1987. It is considered to be the first purpose-built Mosque in Ireland. There are only two Mosques of this type in Ireland at present; the Ballyhaunis Mosque and the Mosque of the Islamic Cultural Centre, which was donated by Sheikh Hamdan Al-Maktoum. The Ballyhaunis Mosque is a small mosque, which accommodates about one hundred and fifty worshippers. It was built by a Muslim businessman called Sher Rafique who used to own a meat factory in that remote town in the North West of Ireland. Although the factory has gone bankrupt, and the owner and his family moved to Britain there is still a small Muslim community, which is using the facility of the Mosque at present.


Limerick Mosque

There is a Mosque in the City of Limerick which local Muslims established and where congregational and Jumu’ah prayers are performed. The Mosque is run by the committee, which established it.

There are a number of houses, which are rented and used by Muslims for the Jumu’ah prayer as in Waterford city and Cavan.




The Muslim-Irish prove to be a surprisingly moderate bunch . . .




Tuesday December 19 2006

MOOSAJEE Bhamjee was raised shoulder-high the night he became Ireland’s first Muslim TD. Back in 1992, the man from Clare‘s victory seemed like a beacon marking Ireland’s entry to a world of cultural diversity. Was it all so simple? World events such as 9/11 and vicious rows such as the outcry after a Danish newspaper published cartoons offensive to some Muslims encouraged others to pause.


Over a decade later, the idea of cultural diversity is more real, complex and challenging than many might have thought.


The good news of the Irish Independent/Prime Time poll among Muslims in Ireland is that a large majority feel integrated with the wider community and generally accepted here.


They respect Irish democracy and admire its public figures, such as Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and President Mary McAleese.


However, more than one-third think that Irish morals are poor and do not support freedom of speech that offends religious beliefs. Among younger people, one-third would like to see the extreme religious law of Sharia imposed in Ireland, although half the respondents overall don’t think Ireland should be run as an Islamic state.


These contradictory views suggest that there are pronounced differences within the Muslim-Irish community about what it means to be Irish and Muslim. Many views support the State’s core values but some are directly opposed to beliefs it holds dear.


The poll is the first time Muslims in Ireland have been asked what they think about living and working here.


It comes soon after Muslim-Irish people were told they were “in denial” about the dangers in their midst. Dr Shaheed Satardien, a South African-born Muslim living in Ireland, said the country could become “a haven of fundamentalism” for dissident Muslims wishing the West no good. While Muslim-Irish people dissociated themselves from his words, just over one-fifthof those surveyed thinkIreland could harbourdissidents.


Roughly the same number believe that violence is sometimes justified to achieve political ends.

World events have shown the dangers of promoting a “happy ever after” policy of cultural integration. Strong beliefs foster strong disagreements and the question of how people share a state on that basis has provoked difficult debates throughout Europe.


Some Irish people may be more open to understanding how moderate Muslims feel about being automatically linked to extremists, remembering how it was to be Irish living in Britain during the IRA campaigns, or the times when Irish people had to undergo a special protocol at British customs.


This may encourage closer co-operation in the short term while Ireland starts negotiating the delicate balance between being a citizen and being amember of a faith-based community.

But if a conflict arises on core values, does a citizen give loyalty to faith or state first? This is one of the questions currently pre-occupying policymakers in Britain and in the US, where citizens who were also Muslim behaved differently in the two countries after 9/11 and the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.


US Muslims were very unlikely to become involved with extremist groups, whereas in Britain, younger Muslims were drawn to extremism in greater numbers, with a minority actively supporting Al-Qa’ida and associated groups.


In Britain and in western Europe generally, people are more likely to be unemployed if they are Muslim than if they are of other faiths or none.

This overt disadvantage is one of the factors thought to encourage younger Muslims, especially men and boys, to identify with more fundamentalist and extremist interpretations of Islam than their parents do.


And ordering Muslims to behave according to what the State decides can backfire, as rows over wearing the hijab or veil in France demonstrate. Respondents in Ireland overwhelmingly think the State should not interfere with this practice.


Which is the wise way forward? The recently-formed Council of Imams will participate along with better-known faith communities such as Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland churches in the Government’s new forum.


But immovable facts such as the common travel area with Britain, which is still at war, mean that Muslim-Irish are already under greatersurveillance by the State than are other faithcommunities.


The survey shows that while Muslim-Irish people are like other citizens in favouring a quiet life like, there may be some delicate sticking points ahead.


Most Muslims have come to this

 Country for educational or professional reasons and then decided to stay

Ireland‘s Muslims forging an identity


13/10/2006 ur 25,000-30,000-strong

Muslim community is diverse in terms of

 nationality and ethnicity, writes Mary


Nothing about the squat grey building tucked behind a veterinary hospital on one of Cork’s industrial estates gives the slightest clue that this is where most of the city’s Muslims come to pray. There is no dome, no minaret and no crescent pointing skyward. It looks more like a disused workshop than a mosque.


Inside, blue patterned carpets line a series of interconnecting rooms. There are posters explaining the movements for prayer and polite notices asking visitors to turn off their mobile phones.


The mosque’s Libyan imam, Sheikh Salim Al Faituri, is apologetic. “This is just a temporary arrangement,” he explains, after breaking his daily Ramadan fast with the traditional iftar meal eaten after sunset. “Inshallah [God willing] before long we will have a proper place of worship.”

Members of Cork’s Muslim community, the second biggest after Dublin, have been renting this building in the city’s southside since 2002. “It’s nowhere near big enough,” says Farghal Radwan, a consultant at the Bons Secours hospital.


“Our numbers are increasing all the time and we have people coming from different parts of Munster to pray here. At Eid Al Fitr [the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan] last year, we had 2,000 people turning up. Most of them had to stand outside.”


Many other Irish Muslims are in the same position. While Dublin has two long-established Sunni mosques – the largest at Clonskeagh and the other on South Circular Road – and a Shia mosque in Milltown, the rest of Ireland’s Muslims pray at makeshift mosques in warehouses, industrial estates and even private homes.


Outside Dublin, the only other purpose-built mosque is in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo. Attempts to establish alternative spaces for prayer can run into problems. In Tralee this summer, plans to convert a residential house into a mosque drew objections from local residents concerned about traffic congestion.


The increasing need for extra places of worship is just one sign that Ireland’s Muslim community is changing more rapidly than at any other time in its relatively short history. It’s getting bigger for a start. Most observers agree that the last officially collated figures have long been surpassed. According to the 2002 census, there were just under 20,000 Muslims in Ireland. Today, conservative estimates put the population at 25,000-30,000; others say it could be even higher.


It’s a far cry from the early days of the Muslim community in Ireland.

The country’s first Islamic Society was established in the late 1950s by a group of foreign Muslims studying at Irish universities. Because there was no mosque in Dublin at the time, the students, mostly from the Middle East and south Asia, gathered for jum’ah (Friday) prayers in their homes or in rented halls.


With the help of donations from relatives and individuals such as King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Ireland’s fledgling Muslim community opened the country’s first mosque and Islamic Centre in a four-storey building on Dublin’s Harrington Street in 1976.


The premises soon became too small to accommodate the growing number of worshippers and in 1983 a former church building on South Circular Road was bought, renovated and converted into what is now known as Dublin Mosque.


In 1996 the Islamic Cultural Centre was opened in Clonskeagh. The four-acre complex, which includes Ireland’s biggest mosque and a school, was funded primarily by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the deputy ruler of Dubai.


Unlike Britain and France, where the majority of Muslims come from former colonies such as Pakistan and Algeria; or Germany where the Muslim population is made up of Turks who immigrated under post-war labour schemes, Ireland’s Muslims are less tied to the country’s historical baggage. Most came here for educational or professional reasons and decided to stay, often marrying Irish citizens.


“Ireland’s experience is unique in many ways,” says Sheikh Zille Umar Qadri of Clonee Islamic Centre in west Dublin. “If you look at the Muslim population in the UK and other European countries, it is mostly people who came from poor rural areas of countries like Pakistan. Many were illiterate labourers when they arrived.


“The majority of Muslims that came to Ireland already had a solid background and education. They were doctors, engineers, business people and students. It made it easier for them to integrate and become part of the community.”


Ireland‘s Muslim community has always been diverse in terms of nationality and ethnicity. In the past, Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa tended to predominate. In recent years, however, the population has swollen to include more Muslims from south and southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and China.


Many of the new arrivals are young economic migrants, others are asylum seekers. In 1992 the first group of Muslim asylum seekers arrived from Bosnia, later followed by a second group from Somalia. Muslims from Nigeria, Libya, Iraq and Algeria have also sought asylum in Ireland.

Irish converts make up a small percentage, with some estimates putting the number of converts at about 10 a year.


“It feels very different to other European countries,” says Dr Radwan. “Our community is more cosmopolitan and because of its relatively small size, you see and feel that diversity more.”

The community also contains many different sects and sub-sects. Apart from the long-established mainstream Sunni and Shia communities, many of the newer members of Ireland’s Muslim population have set up prayer groups that focus on schools of thought popular in their home countries. These tend to centre around an imam or cleric who adheres to a certain school and builds a following based on his preaching.


In the greater Dublin area, a number of congregations have grown around individuals who espouse sects common in south Asia and Africa.


Sheikh Ismail Kotwal, a British-born Muslim with Pakistani roots, came to Ireland nine years ago. He belongs to the Deobandi sect. Centred on a rigid interpretation of Islam, Deobandism is most common in Pakistan and India.


“There was a great demand within the Pakistani community here for someone who could preach in Urdu,” he says of his decision to move to Ireland.


Sheikh Kotwal runs Koranic classes at the Noor Ul Islam centre on Dublin’s Aungier Street and preaches every Friday in a warehouse owned by a Muslim businessman in the nearby Blackpitts industrial park. He studied at Darul Uloom in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest and most prestigious madrassa, and says he would like to open a Darul Uloom subsidiary in Ireland sometime in the future.


“At the Blackpitts mosque I speak for 10 minutes in English, five minutes in Urdu and then say prayers in Arabic,” he explains. “It has become very popular.” Sheikh Kotwal estimates that, on average, 800 people attend Friday prayers at his mosque.


At least two congregations in the Dublin area are dominated by the Sufi-tinged Barelvi sect popular in south Asia.


Ireland also has a small community of Tablighi Jamaat, the transnational Islamic missionary movement. Based around a mosque in Lucan, their numbers are estimated at between 40 and 50. The Tablighi Jamaat concentrates its efforts on fellow Muslims, aiming to strengthen faith and encourage regular prayer. They go door-to-door in areas with significant Muslim populations and travel overseas for missionary work.


The Irish Muslim community also contains a smattering of those who adhere to the Salafi school of thought, an austere rendering of Islam similar to Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia. Small in number, the Salafis in Ireland are not organised around any particular mosque or congregation.

The Nigerian community is one of the most recent additions to the country’s Muslim population. There are around 1,000 adult Muslims from Nigeria now living in Ireland, according to Imam Shehu, a cleric from Lagos. He preaches what he describes as “African Sufism” at a mosque in a business park in Dublin’s East Wall.


“We get around 200 people coming for Friday prayers,” he says. “Some of them travel from outside Dublin. It’s a real Nigerian community thing. Islam as a religion is based on unity and we recognise that but we are different in some respects to Arab and south Asian Muslims.”

While many within the Muslim community consider its diversity to be one of its greatest strengths, there are increasing signs that the growing melting pot of nationalities, ethnicities and sects brings its own challenges.


Nowhere is this more apparent than the issue of who speaks for Irish Muslims. There is no equivalent in Ireland of organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain. With no clearly defined leadership, the Muslim population here has experienced sporadic bouts of infighting in the form of personality clashes, power struggles and petty squabbles. One dispute between two leading members ended up in the High Court.


More recently, the controversy surrounding Sheikh Shaheed Satardien exposed some of the jockeying for authority. Sheikh Satardien, a South African who arrived in Ireland four years ago, claimed Muslim clerics here were “in denial” about rising extremism within certain elements of the community. His allegations provoked a furious response from clerics and ordinary Muslims. Many attributed his criticisms to grievances held over his failure to establish an umbrella group of Muslim representatives.


Sheikh Satardien was also known to be critical of what he considered to be an Arab-dominated hierarchy within the community. In one e-mail sent to a prominent member, he wrote “Get rid of your Arabism and recognise that Muslims are a diverse group. There are more than 42 different nationalities amongst Muslims in Ireland. There are also different strands of Muslims and various schools of thought.”


Satardien has been largely ostracised following the furore over his comments on extremism. The organisation he attempted to set up, the Supreme Muslim Council of Ireland, has now been overtaken by another council launched last month.


This new group, the Irish Council of Imams, represents 14 imams and includes those from Sunni and Shia traditions. It is chaired by Imam Hussein Halawa from the Islamic Cultural Centre and its deputy chairman is Imam Yahya Al-Hussein of the Islamic Foundation of Ireland. Council members include representatives from Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford, Meath, and various Dublin mosques.


“We had been preparing for this for quite some time,” says Imam Halawa. “It was not just a response to recent events. There is a need for co-operation, consensus and a united approach.”

Cork‘s Sheikh Al Faituri agrees: “The importance of the council is that it will speak with one voice when reacting to events. Unlike Shaheed Satardien who spoke for no one but himself, it will present a united front.”


One of the first moves by the new Council of Imams was to agree on the date on which all Irish Muslims would begin Ramadan this year, a small but significant step.

The council’s objectives also include a pledge to encourage “positive integration into the Irish society”. This will prove crucial in the years to come. Ireland’s Muslim community is changing, not only as a result of increased immigration in recent years, but also due to the fact that the first generation of Irish-born Muslims is growing up.


“With some of the older generation, it can seem like they never really left their home country,” says Fr Kieran Flynn, who carried out the first in-depth study of Ireland’s Muslim community for his postgraduate thesis at the Irish School of Ecumenics in Trinity College.


“They maintain strong ties and keep up with events back home. The next stage, however, will be crucial as Muslims really settle into Irish society, embracing it not just through employment but through putting down roots in terms of family and society. It will involve negotiating their Irishness through being born here or having their children grow up here. It is really the children, that generation, that will play this role and truly claim their place in Irish society.”


For Carol Nagle, a Dublin woman who took the name Sakinah when she converted to Islam 20 years ago, that will mean seeing her children grow up Irish without losing their Muslim identity. She converted two years before meeting her Egyptian husband, Farghal Radwan. The Cork-based couple have five children. “My children are very comfortable with who they are,” she says.


“They are Irish and Muslim and proud of it.” Her daughter Sarah (15), agrees.

“Being Muslim doesn’t make me any less Irish,” she says. “I was born here and I wouldn’t like it any other way. Egypt is cool but I feel Irish more than anything else.”



Mary Fitzgerald is the winner of the Douglas Gageby Fellowship. Her reports on the “The Faces of Islam” appear in Friday’s Irish Times.





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